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Legendary Lovers: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Legendary Lovers: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas


Stein and Toklas were perhaps the most famous same-sex couple of the 20th century.

Would there have been avant-garde art and literature without Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas? Possibly, but they had a seminal influence on the careers of Matisse and Picasso among others, setting the tone of modern art for decades to come. The Paris apartment they shared at 27 rue de Fleurus became the epicenter of new art and writing as well as a hub of influence on music, fashion, and an emerging sense of freedom for LGBT people all over the world.

Stein and Toklas were both California girls but met in Paris. After the death of Stein's parents, she followed her brother Leo to Paris, in 1903, where he was studying art. In 1907, Stein met Alice B. Toklas; the women were immediately drawn to each other. Toklas began daily visits to Stein at the Rue de Fleurus apartment to take care of secretarial work for her. Stein took Toklas on as an unofficial pupil and began transmitting her culture-changing perceptions about art to Toklas. Eventually, Alice moved into 27 rue de Fleurus and Leo moved out. They kept the apartment together until Stein's death in 1946.

Alice on the left, Piazza San-Marco, Venice, circa 1908.

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The salon at the Rue de Fleurus apartment. Picasso's famous portrait of Stein top, center.

Stein's writing was famously difficult. She wreaked havoc on syntax, grammar, and punctuation, but her most accessible and famous work was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

Besides the heavy hitters of culture like Picasso and Hemingway, Stein and Toklas were friends and collaborators with the most influential gay artists of the 20th century: Jean Cocteau, Thornton Wilder, Cecil Beaton, Virgil Thompson, and Sam Steward among them.

Aix les Bains, France, c.1927Gertrude-stein-alice-b-toklas30sx633_0
Stein and Toklas in the 1930sCecil-beaton_from-gertrude-stein_in-words-and-picturesx633_0
A Cecil Beaton photographBeatonx633_0
A Cecil Beaton photograph

The women became a symbol of a happily "married" lesbian couple for many. Volumes of books about their lives continue to reveal the complexity of their relationship. Films and plays have been made depicting them.

Below a clip from the 1987 film Waiting for the Moon with Linda Basset as Stein and Linda Hunt as Toklas.

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